What Is Ash Wednesday?
“From the dust you have come, to the dust you shall return. Repent of your sins, and remain faithful to the Gospel.”
I’m not sure that I can say I’ve had the joy of doing this, but I’ve had the opportunity to recite these words and place palm ashes on the foreheads and hands of hundreds of people. It is, perhaps ironically, my favorite Christian tradition in the liturgical calendar. But what is Ash Wednesday? And what is Lent?
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent: 40 days of prayer and fasting as we prepare our heart, mind, and soul for the trial, crucifixion, and death of Christ. The season of Lent represents our mortality, our finiteness, and to embrace the gift of our earthiness, our humanity. We are reminded that we are dust. We are created from the substance we walk on, or at least the substance that is underneath what we walk on. It is a season that instructs us to tread lightly, on our world and on ourselves.
For some of us, though, we don’t need Lent to be reminded of our humanity. Our every day feels like a season of pruning. Whether it is grief from encountering loss, depressive feelings or stress or anxiety - some of us are reminded of our finiteness every day.
As (I hope) you probably noticed, I took a break from the blog for a while. I was and am in my own sot of pre-Lent Lenten season. I’ve encountered so much loss and change and transition in the past year. I felt my soul asking me to curl up in a metaphorical cave, away from the spotlight, and mine for the precious gems hidden in the depths of the Spirit.
I haven’t felt content in this season, and I think that is what Lent is all about. While working at Fuller, my job was to help others discover their passion and encourage them to align their calling with their vocation. Well, the joke was on me. In the process of learning how to help others discover their passion, I realized I was not living at the center of my own passion. So, to maintain my integrity and out of obedience to what I believe God is calling me to, I transitioned out of that job and into a couple of other roles that help pay the bills but also allows me to re-discover, re-center, re-dream, and most importantly, recover.
This season has been marked by loss. I haven’t written about this yet, but we recently started talking openly about our miscarriage back in August. Losing our little one taught me so much about my belief in resurrection. In my most recent post, I shared about my Papa, who has since passed away. I sat by his bedside while he went on hospice and he peacefully returned to the dust from which he is made. I’ve transitioned two significant jobs in the last year, and with each one, a sense of loss is closely associated. Loss isn’t just about people, it includes title and position, power and perks. While these aren’t inherently bad, they certainly help us confuse our core identity.
I want so deeply for this Ash Wednesday to be the end of these reminders that I am human. I want to feel like I am more than the ground beneath my feet. But the pruning in my own life is not yet done. I want so deeply for the Passion Week to be over and enjoy the resurrection life restored. But I’ve come to learn this is not the gospel truth of spiritual formation. The truth is, deepening our soul for spiritual formation takes time. It is in these places of fasting, of embracing loss, that we excavate our soul and deepen our capacity to hold the love of Christ. Lent reminds us of the other half of our existence, in the darkness of night our bodies recover, our imagination dreams, and we gain a deeper understanding of the light.
I know there is a lifetime more to learn. There is a lifetime that graciously includes pruning and growing and sowing new seeds.
So this Lenten season I invite you to remember: We are dust, and to the dust we shall return.
Fasting for Lent
There are a lot of ways in which the Christian church has participated in Lent. One of those ways is fasting. While I understand there is a lot of nuance to each person and each person’s needs, I encourage you over the next 40 days (Ash Wednesday - Palm Sunday minus Sundays) to give up something, so that we may truly put on Christ and the Spirit.
Some Examples of Fasting:
Food: But not for the purpose of getting that summer bod. Dad' bods are in and don’t fast with an ulterior motive.
Technology: Instead of watching Netflix and engaging in deafening noise, embrace silence and listen to what your soul has to say.
Social Media: Remember, the Instafamous are also made of dust.
Busy-ness: Take off this ‘badge of honor’ and get some real rest. Warning, people may freakout when you tell them you are well rested and doing better than ‘good’.